Student spotlight: Salma Alazmeh

Coming to the D

When conflict arose in Syria, Salma Alazmeh saw it as the perfect time to seek a graduate education abroad. Alazmeh, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Damascus University and worked as a financial clerk for the World Health Organization and for Arabia Insurance, is pursuing an M.B.A. at the Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business.

She decided to attend the Ilitch School because of its diversity and AACSB accreditation. Little did she know, she would become a major player in a new organization on campus.

In Syria, Alazmeh worked for a charity that helped children attend school and go on to universities. She said most of the children’s parents were illiterate. Alazmeh brought that passion to aid educational endeavors to Detroit, and searched for volunteer opportunities at WSU.

Alazmeh said she felt she needed to be productive and apply what she was learning outside the classroom.

Soon after her arrival at Wayne State, she began volunteering with the Helping Individuals Go Higher (HIGH) Program, which was established in 2013 by Wayne State First Lady Jacqueline Wilson. The program’s goal is to help homeless, precariously housed and financially challenged students achieve their goal of earning a WSU degree.

Even though Alazmeh’s visa would not allow her to work for pay, Wilson wanted her to be part of the team. After six months of volunteering, Wilson named her the HIGH Program’s president of volunteers.

"Education is so important," Alazmeh said. "In Syria education is free. My heart breaks when students have to struggle for basic needs."

She continued, "How can you live without having a house? How can you be emotionally and physically stable and a good individual if you don’t have a home to relax?"

Alazmeh said the HIGH Program also provides resources for students to find childcare and jobs. The program has helped more than 100 students to date and partners with other on- and off-campus resources including the Academic Success Center, Career Services Online and even Blackstone Launchpad.

While Alazmeh ultimately wants to return to Syria, first she would like to gain experience working at a large company in the United States. Her academic focus is business operations and strategies.

Because Alazmeh has learned so much during her time at the Ilitch School, she would like to start a partnership between Damascus University and WSU.

In addition to her coursework and volunteerism, Alazmeh interned with Accenture on DTE Energy’s Customer 360 Project, which is geared toward tailoring software for the client and improving customer satisfaction. Even though she is a busy woman, she also has found time to participate in the WSU Muslim Students' Association.

Overcoming obstacles

Prior to coming to the United States, Alazmeh was not proficient in English, so she enrolled in WSU’s English Language Institute and benefited from the expertise of teachers Ellen Barrett, student services coordinator, and Dean-Michael Lynn, public relations coordinator.

Alazmeh has grown to love classes she did not think she would appreciate. Coming from a family of civil engineers, Alazmeh always liked numbers and things that could be proven. The master’s student said that before taking Associate Professor Thomas Naughton’s Managing Organizational Behavior, she was disappointed that she had to take theoretical class.

"Sometimes you feel like it doesn’t apply to the company," she said. "I love numbers. I cannot understand something if it doesn’t have numbers."

However, during Naughton’s course Alazmeh learned what it takes to be a leader in the field and explored creative breakthroughs in companies such as Uber, Facebook and McDonald’s. She said she also learned from leaders and executives about their successes and challenges.

Alazmeh also enjoyed taking a finance course with Associate Professor Ranjan D’Mello. She said that even though the class was online, he was very accessible.

"He teaches the students everything he knows and keeps in touch with them to help them even after the class finishes," she said.

Alazmeh encourages other students to take advantage of the many resources available at WSU.

"Whatever you want to learn, if you just ask, most faculty are willing to help," she said. "Build a relationship between you and your professors because you never know when they can help you or you can help them."